A/N: I just want to thank you guys for being the greatest reviewers in the world. You guys really inspired me to keep the story going. I'm posting this last chapter 1 year, to the day, after I posted chapter 1. I want to express a HUGE thank you to all of you who have been here that whole time, but I also love all of you who jumped on during the last few chapters, or perhaps even after the posting of this last one. Thank you all SO much!
Chapter 28 – Romance in the Air
There's something about opening up to a magazine interviewer about a secret gay relationship that just seems so…. insidious. When it came to Sophia and Vivian, I let the press in on everything, but I hadn't actually liked them… and I let the press know it. Every flaw in our relationship was blown up and scrutinized in the limelight, and the crowds almost always took my side. However, my relationship with Merlin felt much more personal, much more taboo for interviews, so I was not keen to tell this interviewer anything.
It was the basic stuff first.
Legends: Let's start with the most basic question. Arthur, does this mean you're off the market?
Arthur Pendragon: I'd say that's a bit of a stupid question, but yes. That's definitely what this means.
L: So you're dating a guy now. Let us know: Is this a new revelation or have you always known this about yourself?
AP: That I'm gay? I've always known. Without going too deep into the subject and my inner conflict, for most of my life I've been trying to be perfect and normal. I've always been into men, but I convinced myself I liked a couple women. Well, we all know how those relationships worked out, don't we?
L: How long have you known this man?
AP: Uh… We've been a part of each other's lives for about six years, technically.
L: What do you mean, 'technically'?
AP: Well we met once during an incident during a shooting of mine when I was fifteen. We didn't officially meet and become close until about October of this past year.
L: How long have you been dating?
AP: -laughs- Since mid-November.
L: Short time-span. How long do you suspect the relationship to last?
AP: As long as he'll have me. I have become closer to him in the past months than I have ever been with another person in my entire life. He has helped me fix my perspective on my career, my family, and my life. I've become a much better person because of him.
L: Yes, we've all noticed you've dropped out of the spotlight. Why is that?
AP: I realized that posting my every move in the next glamour magazine wasn't in my best interest. It was invasive and dangerous to my mental well-being. I was losing myself in the need to be famous. Now I can focus on my job and be popular for my talent instead of my ego.
The interview pressed deeper. How old was he? He didn't work for my industry so how did I re-meet him? Did my parents like him? Did his parents like me? What exactly did he help me fix about my views? I tried to answer as much as I felt was essential, straying away from topics I felt were unimportant and unnecessary. At the end of the interview, I realized one major question and piece of information was missing.
L: I think that's all the questions we have for you.
AP: Aren't you forgetting one major point?
L: What's that?
AP: Don't you want to know his name?
L: Yes! We were actually hoping you'd bring that up. What IS the name of your mystery guy?
AP: Merlin. His name is Merlin. And that's all the time I have for you today.
L: Thank you very much for your time, Arthur.
It still struck me that they waited for me to talk about his name. I had expected it to be one of the first questions, but it seemed I was wrong. Did they not even care what his name was? Did it not matter if he was real or not? Part of me felt like they only cared because it was an image they were selling, a gossip column and not a person. Yeah, well screw them too.
I had a date with my 'mystery guy' anyway… and all the papers knew it. The week of Valentine's Day was too busy and too cheesy for travel. For that, Merlin and I simply spent all day inside – ahem, if you catch my meaning. I even did it like a romantic movie. There were roses. Lots of roses. And candles. And mood lighting. I cooked dinner. Merlin made dessert. Merlin spent a lot of time looking at the room, just staring at each detail and letting it sink in. He cradled roses in his fingers, watched the way the flames of the candles wiggled. He made cupcakes for dessert, following my mother's recipe, and had almost too much fun making puffy white clouds of flour.
I didn't mind his staring. It was like an addition to my own ego, watching him explore each new event in his life with the curiosity of … well of a blind man who'd been given new sight. Everything caught his attention. He found so many mundane things to be beautiful.
After dessert, we hopped in my car and drove to the pier to watch the night overtake the beach.
But the week of Valentine's Day was much too busy to think of traveling on. So we waited until the next week to go on our adventure. In the aftermath of the lover's week, I scored us discount tickets to Paris. Merlin, who I learned had never flown before in his life, got the window seat and watched the view for most of the flight. He took a short nap on my shoulder when his stomach decided to disagree with him, but when he woke up his nose was back to the window.
Merlin loved Paris. The lightning as we landed made his heart audibly ache. He kept shooting me sideways glances that I pretended not to notice. He was undoubtedly thinking back to my text message in November. It made my heart beat faster in nervousness and excitement and an overwhelming feeling of pride. He was getting a glimpse into how I saw him – my Paris.
He seemed to really like it.
We got to our hotel, one with a balcony that let you see the Champs-Élysées but wasn't right next to that street so you didn't have to totally worry about traffic. The first night was us on the small balcony, looking out at the city and eating room service croissants. Merlin never let me forget that he didn't like me spending so much money on him, but I assured him I had plenty of it saved up over the years. My parents always bought everything because they were rich too. I'd been collecting interest on thousands of dollars since I was five and never used my own money until I was eighteen and wanted my own home above my parents. When that tenant moved out, I snagged it. Other than that and car insurance, I paid for virtually nothing. I had plenty of money.
"Did you know I was once called the youngest millionaire in Europe?" I asked while taking a bite of bread. Merlin snorted.
"You were not," he said. I couldn't help but grin.
"No. I wasn't. But I probably could've been."
Merlin elbowed me in the ribs, almost making me cough out that bread I was eating. I shoved him playfully in return and he laughed.
We went to the Eiffel Tower the first day, raced up the first few flights of stairs and then rested and got lunch at the buffet because it was cheaper and we could actually understand the menu. We walked like normal people for the second half of the steps of the tower. We counted every single step, all 1,665 on the way down. I lost count once, but Merlin corrected me and started counting out loud… very loudly. But the real treat was going to the top of the tower. It was a monstrous wait time, but we were nibbling on pizza and snacks in the meantime anyway, so we barely noticed. It was fun, just hanging out and talking and watching people. We tried to guess what the French people were saying around us, but my French was rusty and Merlin had never learned it.
I kissed him at the top. We had a nice American tourist take our picture and then it was back down to head out for dinner. Nothing fancy, Merlin made me promise, but cute corner cafes were alright with him.
Day two, we went shopping in the Champs. We started at one end and somehow made it to the other before night fall. It was a mystery how. Merlin stopped at every stand, convinced he'd find something magical or amazing. He found everything to be magical, though. He just didn't want to buy it all. Halfway down, he bought a necklace, a jaded, red stone hung on a black string, and he gave it to me. He said the whistle was important, but the red matched me better. With his eyes, a glinting stone might announce my presence better. I didn't think so. His ears were acute. I figured he just wanted to show his affection by finally buying me something.
I wore it all day, all night, all week. Merlin bought four bracelets he swore were for Gwen and Morgana, but he ended up wearing them for the rest of our trip, jingling a bit wherever he went. I bought exact copies to give to the girls because I knew Merlin would fall in love with his and never be able to part with them…. So it surprised me when, after we got back to the hotel that night, Merlin took all the bracelets and paired them up with each other. He gave me two that matched two he put back on his own wrist. The other two sets went to the girls.
Merlin said I looked handsome in my new jewelry, and the bracelets made his wrists look somehow sexier than before, in my opinion. The new jewelry ended up being the only things we wore to bed that night, and the bracelets clicked together as we made love to the sounds of the night and a French street musician playing love songs to the moon.
Not to throw off the mood, but that was rather romantic, wasn't it? Merlin certainly thought so.
Day three, we walked the streets, taking in the statues and the fountains around town. We passed the Arc de Triomphe and visited a museum that was much too large and had me going to sleep but had Merlin flittering around like an excited hummingbird. I didn't really understand it. I liked art well enough, but when we got back to the hotel, I was ready to die and Merlin was calling his mother to rant about the amazing artwork he'd seen.
Day four, we went shopping again. This time we went for clothes, some street clothes, but mostly nicer things. I didn't let Merlin talk me out of it, and I took him to dinner that night at a fancy restaurant recommended by the hotel staff and a museum worker I'd spoken to the day before while Merlin mooned over Picasso and whoever. Merlin said he felt out of place, but I pointed out that he looked classy in his new clothes and if he'd still been blind he never would've known the difference. That got him to relax and we spent the rest of the night laughing about the museum the day before, about people we'd seen being attacked by a flock of hungry pigeons, and some particularly funny shapes we found in our food when we got it. We talked about home and the people there, and we speculated what pictures the magazines had of us at this point. It was debatable what stories would be published, but we were pretty sure they couldn't get anything negative out of what we were doing. Then we went back to joking about Will's reactions, words Gwen said because she was American, and Mordred's crush on Morgana.
Overall, it was a good four days. Day five we spent almost entirely in the hotel, packing and making sure we'd gone everywhere we wanted to go. We caught a plane late that night. While we waited for it, Merlin read 'Persuasion' by Jane Austen and I slept on him. When he woke me up for our flight, he had a French dictionary out, which made me wonder who he'd been talking to, but he said nothing interesting happened while I was out.
The flight back was groggy, but Merlin kept me awake by reading words from his French-English dictionary and making me guess what they meant. I got about half of it right, but I couldn't speak anything in sentences. When we landed, both of us were sleeping, Merlin against the window and me against him. Mum met us at the terminal, welcoming us back with large hugs and asking about gifts. Merlin slipped one of the bracelets on her wrist, which she thanked him profusely for.
Morgana and Gwen got matching bracelets, made lots of squee-ing noises, and hugged each other like old friends. They must have spent more time together while we were away. The last bracelet we gave to Hunith, who looked like she might cry about it. She gave us each a big hug and kept looking at it like it was one of the greatest gifts she'd ever be given, something precious.
It was a wonderful reunion, and the magazine Mum grabbed the next morning reported us as having gone on a romantic French get away. That was it. I was very proud of them. It seemed they were starting to treat us like any other couple in the movie business. I guess Merlin had been right, the sooner we got it out there, the sooner they would leave us alone. Still, I wasn't convinced the paparazzi was done with us, but only time would tell.
You would have thought it was the perfect Spring day. The sun was bright and high. For once, the silly British weather system decided to be kind to someone and be beautiful for their special day. The temperature was a mild degree which meant all of us sitting in the direct sun weren't sweating like idiots. The area was gorgeous. There were yellow roses and purple carnations set on every surface and hanging from a gazebo that stood before a procession of forty chairs.
A small wedding, just the way Guinevere wanted. A spring wedding, just like Lancelot wanted. It was a win/win situation, no doubt. Mother, Father, Mordred, Merlin, and myself were there, along with my aunt and uncle – Lancelot's parents on my father's side, and Uncle Tristan, on my mother's. Gwen's entire extended family was there, equaling a grand total of twenty people there to wish her well and congratulate her, ranging from children to grandparents. Morgana sat near us, and there were also a few friends of Lancelot's from work and two of Gwen's friends from America. Lancelot helped some of them pay for the trip over, using some of his savings. He wanted everyone important to Gwen to be there.
Lancelot looked more nervous than I'd ever seen him. I stood by him as his best man and had to continuously smack him in the shoulder to remind him to breathe. The music hadn't even started up yet and he was freaking out.
"Lancelot, will you calm down? You're getting married, not wrestling bears," I reminded. Lancelot took a deep breath and let it out slowly.
"I know. I know. I'm just anxious. There's still time for one of those movie scenes where the bride realizes she's in love with someone else and runs off," he said, rubbing his face down. He'd shaved and cut his hair for this.
"Don't be ridiculous. Gwen loves you too much. Besides, when has she had a chance to fall in love with someone else? You guys are never apart from each other," I pointed out. "She's going to walk down that aisle like a chocolate goddess, and you're going to be so stunned, you'll forget how to say anything but 'I do'. So shut up and stand up straight."
Lancelot took a deep breath and seemed to suck in his gut too. He stood super straight until it seemed the strain of it was too much and he relaxed to just properly straight. I laughed quietly behind his back. Something in the audience caught my attention and I looked to the front row where Merlin sat, waving at me like the minister was going to scold him if he waved any more obvious than a shy third grader. I gave him a wink and he laughed silently.
I motioned to my outfit and Merlin nodded, gave me a thumbs up, and then winked. That's a triple whammy. The murmurs of the guests around us made us seem insignificant, which was good or else me making odd gestures to myself might have been weird. Father kept glancing at us, but then Mum would redirect his attention to her with conversation and sometimes forcing his face to look at her. Father may have accepted us, but he still kept an eye on us. He hadn't been totally happy with my interview with Legends, said I held back on too many questions and got too personal on others. Just couldn't please him, I suppose.
Merlin had liked it. That's all I cared about.
I watched as Morgana fussed over Mordred, fixing his little tie and folding down his collar. He was so embarrassed, he couldn't look her in the eyes. In less than a month, he'd be fifteen. I felt reverent every time I thought about it. He was growing up. Soon he'd be old enough that if he did date Morgana, no one would notice the age difference. I wondered if he'd like her even when she started looking older and he was looking young and handsome. I wondered how long he'd keep his crush on her.
Then the music started. All eyes turned to watch as Gwen and her father strolled up the stone path to the gazebo, Gwen's eight year old niece only seven paces in front of them, tossing out flower petals like candy at a parade. I hadn't been lying! Gwen looked fantastic! Her dress was short, barely skimming the ground when she wore her heels, and it wasn't all that poofy like the dresses I saw in films either. It was flowy, like an evening gown. Little flowers, alternating between yellow and purple, were beaded around the hemline and the bodice – aka, the part around her somehow much more noticeable breasts. She had no sleeves, but wore gloves three quarters up her arm. Her hair was done up in a bun, a few strands hanging down in by her face, visible even through her veil.
"Woah, she's beautiful," I whispered to Lancelot. He inconspicuously kicked me and beamed at his bride to be. She was blushing and giddy as her father kissed her and handed her up to Lancelot on the gazebo.
It was all pretty basic as far as weddings go. They said their little vows and I Do's. It was all standard, but the important part was the overwhelming feeling of love in the area. I'd been to a wedding before, and it felt nothing like this one. This one was movie perfect – with the weather and the flowers and the bride. It was absolutely beautiful… and maybe it was just me. Maybe I just hadn't been emotionally capable of feeling the love at that other wedding, but I still thought this one was the best.
After they kissed and cameras went off, we all followed them into a reception hall where the caterers had prepared both America style and British style foods. Everyone tried both, a symbol of the blending of styles in this union. It was pretty good, I must say.
There was dancing. Most people danced in the center of the room on the miniature dance floor, like my mother and father, but I danced with Merlin in the corner by our table while Father was distracted. I noticed some of Gwen's family regarding us curiously, but they didn't look upset or put-off, so I ignored them. It was a beautiful day filled with love, and I was with Merlin.
"You know, I love you," I said as though it was something new. Merlin smiled.
"I know. I love you too." He kissed me on the cheek, similar to how the French do. "I really love you."
"Oh?" I stopped our slow dancing and took his hand. "Then don't make a scene and let's step outside."
"Huh?" He was confused, but he didn't argue. I led him out into the sunshine, out of everyone's view and out of earshot. Once out there, I kissed his cheek and then his hand. "Arthur, what's going on?" he asked.
"This is Gwen and Lancelot's wedding," I said, smiling. "But I want to bring the spotlight back to us for a second. See, I want to spend the rest of my life with you, growing as a person and an actor. I want to learn everything about you, even the small stuff I haven't figured out yet. I want you to be there with me when I rant about how stupid the industry is and how stupid you are, but you'll always know I'm just kidding or being stupid myself. And I'll be getting even more famous, because you know how I love to be famous. And I'll have men and women throwing themselves at me, but you won't care because you'll know you're the only one I truly care about. But I kinda want to be clear about that. I want everything for you, and I want to make that solid and physical."
"Well, I want that too," Merlin said, but I could tell he didn't see where this was going. "What's your point?"
"My point is, I can get down on one knee, or I could just slip this damn thing on your finger while I'm standing," I said. I pulled a ring from my inside coat pocket. It was nothing special, just a simple white-gold band, but it was a promise between us if he accepted it.
Merlin squinted at it in the bright sunlight and then his eyes widened. He looked up at me as though he honestly couldn't believe I'd done something like this… especially during someone else's wedding, but I couldn't decide if it was a good shock or not.
"Well," he finally spoke, eyes returning to normal but his demeanor still shaken. "Since there won't be an actual wedding involved, I suppose standing would be fine."
"Good, because I'd hate to get my suit dirty," I said, taking his hand and slipping the ring on. I produced an identical ring and let him slip it on my finger as well. "Yours is smaller, so we'll never get them mixed up."
"Are you trying to say I'm tiny?" Merlin asked, supposedly offended but smiling like an idiot. He kissed me then, and I resisted the urge to shove my tongue down his throat. That was something we saved for private nowadays – it was too easy for the press to get photos of it otherwise and those were always awkward. We usually only kissed each other on the cheek in public. But it was a special circumstance so a few kisses on the mouth were allowed.
When Merlin pulled away, he slipped his ringed hand into my right hand and squeezed it tight. I gave him one of my innocent looks, as though I hadn't just done something totally romantic and cheesy, and shrugged. He laughed at me and then pulled me back inside. Mother and Father were just taking their seats as the dancing began to finish. Father opened his mouth to ask where we'd been, but mother pat his shoulder and he dropped it. Good, because I wouldn't have explained anyway.
My hand on Merlin's knee, I looked over to the dance floor. As the last song slowed, only two couples were on the dance floor. Morgana with my quite-a-bit shorter brother and the happy couple. The image of Morgana and Mordred was slightly comical, but no one said anything. Lancelot cast them a glance, but only had eyes for Gwen. I only had eyes for Merlin, but it wasn't my wedding… so I let my gaze look over everyone. I loved all the people in the room that I knew. Thanks to Merlin's influence, my relationships with all of them had improved greatly over the last half a year. Back when I first entered that bookshop, I would have blown off this entire wedding and probably gotten back together with Vivian just for lack of anything better to do. Things were different now.
I looked over at Merlin, noting the small white lines in his eyes, the scars forming in there. It was kind of magical. He noticed me staring and smiled. Funny. I used to think his attention was beyond my reach, but he'd always known me. Merlin had that kind of influence and power - to change people, or at least to change me. I cast my gaze over the table as Mordred and Morgana returned. This was the kind of family I'd always wanted. No… This was the kind of family I'd always needed. I just hadn't known it.
And so it ends.
Keep an eye out for my next work. It would be a shame to lose all of you with the ending of this story. I miss you all already! Good bye!